Looks Like the Trump Administration Lied About the Census

The administration said it needed citizenship data to protect voting rights. New documents tell another story.

A trove of documents brought to the attention of the Supreme Court on Thursday makes it hard to see the Trump administration’s efforts to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census as anything but a partisan power grab.

The court will decide before the end of June whether Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary, was justified under federal law in adding the citizenship question — a move that would nearly certainly lead to a serious undercounts of Hispanics and in immigrant-rich communities. During a hearing on the case in April, it appeared that a majority of the justices was prepared to allow the administration to include the question.

But the explosive new evidence disclosed by the plaintiffs in the case ought to give the justices pause about the ruling they’re about to issue. This is one of the most consequential cases before the court this term. The decision on it will have far-reaching effects on the distribution of political power and federal funding across the country for the next decade and beyond.

According to the plaintiffs who brought the New York challenge to the citizenship question, Mark Neuman, a key adviser to Mr. Ross on census issues, and John Gore, a Justice Department official who oversees voting rights enforcement, gave false or misleading testimony during the course of the litigation about why the Trump administration was so intent on including a citizenship query in the decennial count.

The files show that he wrote to President Trump’s transition team to tack the question onto the census and helped to write a draft Justice Department letter claiming that the question was needed to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act. That was the pretext the administration later used to justify its decision to include it — and which Judge Furman rejected.

Judge Jesse Furman of Federal District Court, the first of three judges to strike down the citizenship question, has asked the Justice Department to respond to the charges and has scheduled a hearing for next week.

Lawyers challenging the citizenship question told Judge Furman on Thursday that, according to a 2015 study written by Mr. Hofeller, adding a citizenship question would create “a structural electoral advantage” that would benefit Republicans and non-Hispanic whites. The documents were unearthed last year by Mr. Hofeller’s estranged daughter, who found them among his effects on four external hard drives and 18 thumb drives.

The files show that he wrote to President Trump’s transition team to tack the question onto the census and helped to write a draft Justice Department letter claiming that the question was needed to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act. That was the pretext the administration later used to justify its decision to include it — and which Judge Furman rejected.

Mr. Neuman admitted in a deposition last year that Mr. Hofeller was the first person to suggest the addition of the citizenship question. The plaintiffs accuse Mr. Neuman and Mr. Gore of providing false testimony in their explanations for this whole charade.

“The new evidence demonstrates a direct through-line from Mr. Hofeller’s conclusion that adding a citizenship question would advantage Republican and non-Hispanic whites” to the rationale advanced by the Justice Department, the lawyers wrote.

In a civil rights case, this would be powerful evidence that the Trump administration took the action for the express purpose of disadvantaging minorities. This, however, is a case dealing with administrative rules, which require officials to act in good faith and offer legitimate reasons for advancing a particular policy goal.

An accurate and fair count of everyone in America isn’t just any policy goal. There’s much at stake with the 2020 census — from the future of the next redistricting cycle to how billions of dollars in federal funding will be allocated. The Supreme Court should see this new evidence for what it seems to reveal: A blatant attempt to rig a constitutional mandate.

Nancy Pelosi’s Great Wall of Resistance

Trump had got himself into a major jam. One problem was that he hadn’t expected to win the election, which meant that he could promise anything without worrying about whether he could deliver. In early January, The New York Times reported that Trump’s longtime former adviser, the now-indicted Roger Stone, suggested using the idea of constructing the wall to help the professional builder remember to bring up immigration, which was to be a major issue for him, at his campaign rallies.

The trick worked too well. Trump came to rely on the wall to bring rally audiences alive. “And who will pay for the wall?” he would shout to his audience. “Mexico!” the crowds would respond in unison. Of course, Mexico had no intention of paying for such a wall.

.. Pelosi clearly flummoxes Trump. He has never had to deal with a woman as smart, dignified, and tough as she is. She is his only known political rival for whom he has not been able to devise a withering nickname (as in “crooked Hillary”): “Nancy, as I call her,” he said, as he began to weaken against her, eliciting mockery in much of Washington (and on Twitter).

.. Trump’s immaturity and abysmal judgment were on display when, in his December meeting with Pelosi and Schumer, he blurted out, “I am proud to shut down the government for border security.” He added: “I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down.” Schumer visibly struggled not to laugh at Trump’s monumental blunder. Anyone minimally well informed knows that the person recognized as causing a shutdown loses in the opinion polls. Trump had trapped himself.

Every time there’s a government shutdown, Americans learn the same three things: that federal workers – derisively called “bureaucrats” – are human beings with families, illnesses, and other issues; that most don’t live in the Washington area, but are spread around the country; and that government contractors get hit, too – not Boeing and the like, but building cleaners, cafeteria workers, and so forth. So, in addition to the 800,000 or so government workers – some furloughed, some required to work without pay – an estimated one million others were also directly affected. Moreover, restaurants and other small businesses in the vicinity of government facilities were hurt by a lack of business. Stories of the shutdown’s harsh impact quickly began to dominate the news.

As the shutdown dragged on, politicians from both parties became increasingly restive. Republicans from areas with numerous government workers, many of them part of Trump’s base, became impatient. Many Democrats worried that though Trump was getting most of the blame for the shutdown, Pelosi’s intransigence would begin to backfire on them. But Pelosi held firm, counseling patience and explaining that as soon as Democrats offered Trump money for his wall, they would be playing his game and would lose their argument that the government must not be shut down because of a policy disagreement.

After government workers went without their first paycheck, the politically harmful anecdotes started rolling in: a woman who would have to decide between chemotherapy and paying the rent; a guard at the Smithsonian Institution threatened with eviction; parents who couldn’t explain to their children why they weren’t working and had no money.

Administration billionaires, like Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, said lunkheaded things (such as, Why can’t they get a loan?). Some employees who were forced to work without pay, in particular air traffic controllers, called in sick. FBI employees, among others, were lining up at food banks. Trump’s approval ratings dropped. Airline delays became the norm. Finally, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who above all wants to keep the Senate in Republican hands, warned Trump that their side was losing the public-relations war.

As is his wont, Trump tried to camouflage his retreat. In a Rose Garden speech, he rambled on with familiar misleading statistics about alleged crimes committed by illegal immigrants and lied about how drugs enter the country – omitting that most come through legal ports of entry in cars, trucks, and trains rather than through openings along the southern border.

Pelosi had outmaneuvered Trump. Suddenly, the president didn’t seem so dangerous; he had tried various stratagems:

  1. a nationally broadcast speech from the Oval Office that even he knew was leaden;
  2. a visit to the southern border that even he didn’t think would change any minds; threats to build his “wall” – which by now had become steel slats –
  3. by decreeing a national emergency (which would probably land in the courts), though virtually no one agreed that there was an emergency. In fact, entries into the US through the southern border are lower than they have been in years.

As it happens, on that Friday night when Trump buckled, I was at a restaurant where Pelosi and her husband, Paul, were dining with another couple. When the House Speaker left her table, customers and staff alike applauded her. A waitress standing beside me was nearly in tears. She choked out, “We need someone who will fight for us.”

House of Pain for President Trump

The new Democratic majority in Congress maps out its investigations of the Trump administration.

To avert an investigative free-for-all, Democrats decided early on that they needed to prioritize their inquiries within a basic narrative framework: How is misbehavior X endangering the health and safety of our democracy or of the American people?

Issues ranking high on Democrats’ inquiry list include the administration’s

  1. response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico; its decisions
  2. not to defend the pre-existing conditions provision of Obamacare and to undermine the program by starving it of funds; its policy of
  3. separating migrant families at the southern border; and its
  4. rollback of environmental protections. Other prime lines of inquiry are
  5. whether former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke stood to benefit personally from decisions he made in office,
  6. whether Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross lied to Congress about his efforts to add a question about citizenship to the new census — and
  7. pretty much every decision made so far by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Such potential maladministration may not be as buzzy as, say, exploring
  8. whether Mr. Trump paid hush money to former mistresses or
  9. underpaid his taxes by a few hundred million dollars. But it does concretely influence the health and well-being of the public.

This is not to say Mr. Trump will get a pass on his personal behavior, simply that Democrats will try to keep the focus on the bigger picture. For instance, Mr. Trump’s continued refusal to release his tax returns is part of his family’s sketchy financial dealings, which raise serious questions about everything from emoluments violations to inappropriate dealings with foreign interests. The crucial question isn’t whether the president has violated the law but whether he has been selling out the nation for personal gain.